Saturday, May 15, 2010
In 1996, while living in San Diego, CA I came to meet Don Lindberg of the San Diego Zoo (one of the big panda experts). I was after a job at the Wild Animal Park - and was getting nowhere. Don recommended I intercept someone visiting from the Smithsonian's National Zoo who was going to be in town briefly. Good thing he corrected my calling her “Deborah” before she showed up. And there was the energetic Dr. Devra Kleiman - full of questions and eager to help. She may have been sporting her famous triangle earrings and matching animal eyeglass holders – but can’t recall. She was the first person I had ever met representing Smithsonian or its National Zoo. She returned to DC and two months later I got the call. Smithsonian... called me!??
Devra had stirred up an opportunity with the Golden Lion Tamarin Project, and with only two phone interviews and no guarantee, I literally packed up my car that night and drove across country to seal the deal. A week later in DC - and virtually penniless, I came to find the program director had moved to Brazil permanently and the position had dissolved. I was crushed, but I accepted that risk and spent the next 4 months (every day) combing the National Zoo. Through Devra's continued advice, I eventually met the crew at the extraordinary Amazonia Science Gallery, settling into my new life and job in DC. It's incredible what one person, rather unknowingly, can do to alter the direction of your life. I'm convinced had I not met Devra on that beautiful sunny day at the San Diego Zoo, I would not be in DC or have these years of experience with the Smithsonian Institution. I might otherwise be cleaning up after condors.
I enjoyed knowing Devra in the Department of Zoological Research building of the National Zoo. She was a delight during lunchtime – toting about her gigantic salad bowl. And you always knew when Devra was in the building, because she would invariably let out one of her charismatic cackles that would quickly travel down the hallways. What a great sense of humor she had – and anyone with a big brain who can laugh like that – that’s good people.
Thank you, Devra. Little did you know - but it was a meeting with you in under an hour that changed my life. May you rest in peace - and enjoy knowing how many people you really touched in this world.